7/13/15

When passion turns obsession


As athletes, we often following a rigid schedule of working out, balanced with a preoccupation with food and body image as it relates to physical performance and overall health. 

For many athletes, patterns of exercise obsession and disordered eating coincide with the race season with a heightened awareness of how workouts, food and body composition positively (or negatively) affect performance.

When your passion turns into an obsession, see this as a wake-up call that you may be taking your health to an unhealthy place. Sense of worth or ability to succeed should not be tied with a fixed number of hours/miles completed per week or a specific body composition or number on the scale. 

If you feel frustrated, anxious or overwhelmed if you miss a workout or find yourself constantly criticizing your body composition, you may be putting yourself into situations where your life is controlled by workout, food and body perfection rather than being focused on development. 

The perfect training and eating regime is the one where you can experience performances gains without compromising overall health.

There is a big difference between eating for performance/health and training for performance gains and living an unmanageable life because of the compulsive drive to maintain a high level of fitness and specific body image. 

Whereas it may look as if you or an athlete you know is trying to achieve optimal performance through his/her actions to be competitive at his/her upcoming races and he/she is being extremely dedicated and committed to training and eating, this passion could be turning into an obsession. 

There is no simple solution to disordered eating and exercise obsession. 
Left untreated there is a high risk of serious health consequences and performances declines.  

Warning signs for a passion turned obsession

-Frequently commenting (out loud or internal dialogue) about your body weight/image or comparing to another athlete's body image
-Feeling extreme pressure to perform/look a certain way from your coach/teammate or yourself
-Loss of a significant amount of body weight
-Difficulty maintaining a healthy weight
-Ritualistic habits and preoccupation with food, calories, cooking and eating
-Sacrificing sleep, relationships and/or work for workouts
-Inability to be flexible with workout intensity/volume
-Training through injury, sickness or fatigue
-Compulsive need to workout or anxiety that you are never doing enough training to feel physically ready for your upcoming race.
-Refusal to fuel before, during and after workouts for fear of gaining weight (or feeling uncomfortable ingesting calories when burning calories) 
-Sporadic or constant episodes of binge eating, purging, emotional eating or food restriction
-Severe mood shifts often tied with exercise or meal times. 
-Chronic fatigue, injuries or sickness
-Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. Constant obsession of losing weight or becoming lean
-Loss of menstrual cycle (amenorrhea) which can come from not meeting energy needs, not necessarily from being "underweight" relative to height. 
-Hormonal issues and loss of sexual drive
-Changes in hair/skin health
-Altered labs (calcium, thyroid, iron/ferritin, estrogen, testosterone, vitamin D, etc.)
-Constipation and GI issues
-Dehydration, bonking, fatigue, headache and other underfueling symptoms that may be dismissed as "normal" associated with training

It's important to note that body weight and fitness level are not directly correlated with eating disorders/disordered eating or exercise obsession. 
Do not assume that just because you are a beginner athlete or if you are over your healthy weight that you are not at risk for health issues related to exercise obsession and disordered eating.
Additionally, some experienced and lean athletes do an exceptional job of staying healthy with eating and are able to train hard but rest/recover harder. 

As an athlete, you likely have your own standards and expectations as to how you want to look, how much you want to train and how you want to perform on race day all in an effort to discover personal physical success. 

There is nothing wrong with being passionate and dedicated to your sport and eating regime. 

But if your intentional "performance boosting" actions are negatively affecting your health, energy and physical performance as well as quality of life and interactions with others, it's important that you reach out to a professional sport dietitian or clinical sport psychologist who specializes in disordered eating and exercise obsession to get the help that you need to ensure that you can continue to train and compete to your full potential.